Tuesday, August 21, 2007


"It's physically and mentally taxing. It takes extraordinary, heavy-duty concentration for hours on end at godawful hours -- like 3 a.m. -- hours before anyone else gets to the set. The appliances have to be laid onto the actor's face perfectly. You can't miss. If you lay it down a little bit too far to the left, when he smiles, you're going to get wrinkles running across his face in an unnatural way."
- DOUG DREXLER (Make-up artist; on the set of Dick Tracy)

Actor Eddie Murphy is transformed into the overweight Professor Klump in The Nutty Professor, actor Bill Forsythe's face is transformed into Flattop in Dick Tracy, and actor Robert Deniro's entire body is made-up to resemble different body parts sewn together for his portrayal of the monster in the 90's version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. All of these actors and many others from many other movies were transformed by make-up effects artists. Make-up artistry is among the oldest special effects techniques.

Making-up an actor means altering that actor's physical appearance in order to transform the actor into a different character. This can mean applying anything from conventional make-up or paint on the actor's body to the addition of prosthetic, or false, parts. These prosthetic parts are commonly referred to as appliances. One very common appliance is called a life mask. It is a foam-latex mask cut into several pieces that form-fit an actor's face and are precisely glued onto the actor's face. Because it is composed of different pieces, it looks very realistic and natural and makes it very difficult to detect that it is even a mask.

To make a life mask, or any other similar appliance, there are several steps a make-up effects artist would take. First, sketches of the intended character are produced in order to conceptualize the character. Next, a maquette is produced of the intended character. A maquette is a small scaled clay model of the character that serves to show what that character will look like. The maquette is shown to the director, producer, and/or anyone else concerned with the artistic aspects of the intended film the character will appear in. These people may offer suggestions or modifications before approving the maquette. Once the maquette is approved, it is time to produce the actual character.

To produce the actual character, the make-up artist needs an actor. Sometimes, the make-up artist will take part in or be the sole caster of an actor. If this is the case, the make-up artist looks for an actor that already has some of the character in him/her, thereby giving the make-up artist a head start on transforming the actor into the character. Once the actor is selected, it is time to begin the transformation.

(Clay creature face)
Sculpted and hardened clay creature face

First, a mold of the actor's face must be made. This must be done so that any appliances can be produced to form-fit the actor's face perfectly. A bald cap is placed over the actor's hair because it is not necessary for the hair to show up in the mold (and it would make a tangled mess anyway). Then a substance such as alginate is quickly spread over the actors head. Alginate is the same substance dentists use to take an impression of your teeth. The process of putting alginate over the actor's head is a very dangerous process because the make-up artist must be certain not to block the actors air intake (either mouth or nose) or else the actor could suffocate. The alginate settles after four minutes and becomes gelatin- like. Gauze and plaster are wrapped around the alginate in order to secure it and then it is pulled off the actor's head.

Mold made of sculpted clay face

Next, some hardening material such as plaster is poured into the mold. Once it dries, the make-up artist can peel the original mold off of it. Now the make-up artist has an exact duplicate of the actor's face, even the pores in the actor's skin show up.

It is time for the make-up artist to get to work in transforming the plaster replica of the actor's head into the intended character. The make- up artist spreads clay onto the plaster replica and builds it up to create the character. Once done with this, the make-up artist uses a blade to very precisely cut the newly added clay into different pieces.

(Slip casting)
Liquid latex is poured into the mold in a process known as slip casting

New molds are taken of these different pieces. This time, two molds are made for each piece: a positive and a negative mold. The positive is the character's part and the negative is the actor's face imprint. Liquid foam latex is poured into the molds and the positive and negatives are fitted together. They are baked in an oven and when done, a foam latex appliance has been created which perfectly fits onto the actor's face.

(Latex creature)
Once the latex has dried, the result is a rubber mask

It does not end there, the appliance must be glued onto the actor's face and finally painted. It may sound simple, but the process of gluing the appliances and painting them on an actor's face often takes many, many hours. And another catch is that the appliances are not reusable. Every new filming day, liquid foam latex is baked in the appropriate molds to produce new appliances.

Make-up artistry is a rather simple process. Many make-up artists start off with a few kitchen items, some basement work space, and a little imagination. But regardless of what they use, their skills produce highly realistic and ultimately believable characters that thrill audiences.



Calista said...

You really inform us and movie world is not secret anymore.
Good work!

buzz staff said...

Wow, man, nice series!


Yoga Gal said...

Alright Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup.